Yuletide traditions vary throughout the Caribbean, with Grenada celebrating different Christmas customs to its neighbouring isles. Sure, they have the same catchy Calypso versions of festive songs that you’ll find throughout the region (Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer sounds awesome on steel pans), and like elsewhere in the Caribbean, the people of Grenada also go into cleaning mode in readiness for Christmastime. But despite certain similarities, there’s a distinct feel and flavour to Christmas in Grenada.
One of the most beloved Christmas traditions in Grenada is the Christmas masquerades: the famous costumed parades, colourful dances and celebratory street parties that typify the festive season. Masquerade bands save a special repertoire of interactive music and dance to perform during the yuletide season, and are named for the traditional masks they wear.
Elaborate outfits include the Wild Cow (with prominent horns), the Horse Head, the Policeman, the Devil, and other weird and wonderful characters. They scare children, prance around like mad men and whoop and holler to rouse the crowds that line the streets. After dancing to the cheers, their leader will hold his hat out for money (or a tot of rum). This sparks up a collective chant from onlookers: “Christmas come but once a year, and every man must have his share. Only poor Willy in the jail, drinking sour ginger beer!”
As well as the masquerades, the locals have another proud musical tradition at Christmas, known as Parang: a style of Grenadian carols sung in groups. On Carriacou, a sister isle of Grenada, the annual Parang Festival has been a big event in the Christmas calendar since 1977.
Unlike the Caribbean Islands of Trinidad and Tobago, where parang songs are sung in Spanish, all the up-tempo festival songs in Grenada and Carriacou are sung in English and accompanied by drums, string instruments, maracas, tambourine and maybe a saxophone. Children clap along with the music, dreaming of the sweets and toys they will receive on Christmas Day.
Grenadians also have their own special Christmas foods. Dishes may look similar to many of those enjoyed on other Caribbean islands, but the recipes are spiced differently here, as you’d expect from Spice Island. For example, the dark black cake served on Christmas Day is made from dried fruit soaked in generous quantities of local rum and heavily spiced with nutmeg.
When a festive meal is served in a Grenadian home, the aromas of garlic, roast pork, pepper and the spices of Grenada mingle gloriously with the smells of polished wood, varnish, fresh paint and scrubbed floor tiles – the unmistakable scent of Christmas. Highly spiced ginger beer and port are also served freely throughout Christmas Day as a reward for abstinence on Christmas Eve, when the menfolk of Grenada traditionally embark on a gruelling trek into the forest to find the perfect Christmas tree. When they find a suitable specimen, they chop it down with an axe and haul it all the way home for a hero’s welcome.
Travelling to the Caribbean for Christmas? Book your flights to Grenada today with Virgin Atlantic.
Have you celebrated Christmas in Grenada? What’s your favourite thing about spending Christmas in the Caribbean? Let us know in the comments section below.
Award-winning travel writer, author & broadcaster Sarah Woods has lived, worked and travelled in The Caribbean since 1995. She has visited resort towns, villages and lesser-known islands where she has learned to cook run-down, sampled bush rum, traded coconuts, studied traditional medicine, climbed volcanoes and ridden horses in the sea. Sarah is currently working on a travel documentary about the history of Caribbean cruises.